Parenting an Athlete Series 3 of 3

The term I have hated most in sports is “it’s my way or the highway!”…..Nonsense. There are certainly moments when a coach must say, “Ok, enough conversation. Let’s move on”. That is practical. But managing (whether in business or in sports) with an attitude of intimidation stops growth in its tracks. It exposes a leader who is insecure and lacks the facts. To me, that turn always reveals someone who cannot command respect, so they demand it. Coaches must take the time to teach. If the coach cannot or will not even entertain a question, resolve a misunderstanding, or listen to an alternative suggestion, today’s experienced players are not fooled. First, they can easily research their question on their phone on the way home. Second, and more devastating to unit cohesion, the player will never approach that coach again with a question. Third, hearing no questions, the coach will assume everyone understands what s/he is saying. When failure rears its ugly face because the practice drill or the game play that was supposedly taught— wasn’t – the yelling begins. Ultimately the coach loses the players’ respect, the ability to teach, and successfully lead.

Trust is contingent on truth.  People grow or change because of a new truth source. You may also call that education. We cannot accept examples of fabricated stories or information without facts or evidence. In our personal duties and professional responsibilities, establishing credibility, citing sources, and generating opinion based on reason and simple common sense is at the core of our relationships, and frankly, a necessity to keeping our jobs! Finding those you can rely upon to present the truth is also a critical factor in choosing friends. In an athletic team context, who your children trust is a vital factor in their ability to choosing friends, following a leader, or growth by accepting new information (or becoming educated)!

New information is the key to athletic success. What is the most important action you need to take to improve? You must change what you are currently doing.

If you don’t gather new information to improve, or change, you are destined to repeat the skill level and mistakes of the past. The concept of – the more you practice the better you get – is flawed. If you practice the wrong skill set you repeatedly adapt poor or unsuccessful skill. We experience this daily as players comment to us, “that doesn’t feel right; that’s not comfortable; I can’t do that; I like my old way”. Of course to a child that makes sense, that’s a normal feeling. If the feeling wasn’t different, strange, or uncomfortable, they wouldn’t be learning anything new. You wouldn’t be building a new skill set. You would never improve!

You can see where this would put a lot of pressure on the student. It’s reasonable. What secures comfort is the trust in the teacher, the coach. We cannot expect players to learn if they do not trust what the teacher is saying is the truth.

It takes time to build trust. It takes effort to verify that someone is telling you the truth. It’s not a one-off task. However, once that truth source is verified, accepted, and respected, it’s amazing how quickly students and their families grow. Once you have found that truth source, don’t lose them. We have decades of direct experience with this facet of learning. We are proud to say that the overwhelming majority of our students have returned year after year to continue their studies with us.

The reason we at Pinkman institutionally believe in the word “why”, is that we want our students to believe we are a valuable truth source for their growth. Traditionally, athletes were taught to shut up and listen and not to question the coach. It’s my way or the highway – remember? I’ve had a few discussions with naval commanders over the years, and they have revealed this is a mistaken method of teaching, emanating from TV movies about the military. We know that unit cohesion is based on quick direction from a superior and (without team discussion) resulting in the execution of that command. To be a competitive team, instant unified action must happen during the game. Those military officers have illustrated the ‘missing link’! The viewer misses the hours spent building trust in the leader within the unit or team training before the mission was carried out.

Expecting most players to question an adult is a unique experience and unrealistic task. At Pinkman we do. We encourage serious respectful educational dialog. This doesn’t happen overnight.  Students simply don’t feel comfortable in that new facet of a coaching relationship. They’re used to adults telling them what to believe. We want them to choose what to believe. Realistically, players are timid and think that the question “why” may offend the teacher or be disrespectful. In many cases, that’s not too far from the truth. Teaching a student to ask WHY is like pulling teeth. But it must and can be done. Risky? Nope! Not if we do our job with facts established with current technology. We know today’s players thrive in that educational culture.

It is essential to establish trust in us (the coach) as a credible source of information. If you take the risk of allowing the student to respectfully and directly ask you why something is true, a relationship of trust builds faster than you can believe. The reason we want parents involved during lessons is so they can observe the learning skills of their children and relay that back to the instructor.

As many parents realize, opinions and acceptance from their children is often initially well hidden. Back in the early 90’s when I began officially teaching lessons, I always said to parents during our first session, the most important part of the lesson is the first 10 minutes on the ride home! It’s during that time the parent will ask, “so how do you think that went?” If the answer is, “fine”or “ok” (similar to the answer of “how was your day at school?”), I’m in big trouble. If on the other hand, the student opens up to their parent about specific moments during that first hour, we have the beginning of a trustful relationship.

The permission to ask why also gives the student another opportunity, method, or cover to indirectly admit they don’t understand what you are saying. Engaging them in the discussion of why something is true, real, and important for them to accept, demonstrates respect for the student personally.  It shows the student that you respect their thought process. Learning at a high information retention value is a process based on a continual choice to accept information. Teaching why something is important to learn disarms a student who has been taught that they must learn the information. Simply put, they consciously believe the teacher. They become committed learners.